I once wrote these words in my unfortunate, naive and relative youth (a couple of years ago I mean), in a piece titled “Is Web 2.0 an example of 21st century socialism?”:
Lessig doesn’t think so. More here.
But I do. It’s a semantic question, obviously. For me, socialism means employing the collective to defend the individual. Historically, there are many socialisms where this has simply not been the case. Thus, we disagree.
But a 21st century socialism we choose to remake, in the image of a century we all covet and proclaim ours, can break out from its historical straitjacket – can achieve something entirely different.
Web 2.0, crowdsourcing, consumer-producers … all these concepts sit nicely with the idea of supportive communities which are able to organise themselves. Using open source tools to redefine and remove costs from the equations that large corporations would otherwise burden us with is 21st century socialism at its best.
Let’s have more of it.
And yet today I find myself posting on whether Twitter and Facebook should pay their users for the content they generate. Clearly something has gone wrong.
We’ve ended up making the most basic of all mistakes: we simply don’t have control over our means of production. What’s missing from my previous position, what turns my dream into a mirage of a delusion, is the fact that instead of open source tools freely and unconditionally available for everyone to use, we’ve decanted for a branded equivalent which behind it has only the naked instincts of profit and loss.
Decanted is the right word too. It’s kind of like what’s happened to the growth in bottled water consumption: running water used to be so enough.
Only now it isn’t quite.
Now we need a logo, an image, a network of messages to justify and sustain our continued participation.
Whilst back at Web 2.0, we continue to slave away at our keyboards and mobile phones – punching in data furiously, with the only reward and compensation for our efforts being the approbation of our peers.
It’s not even as if we’re doing it for free – it’s actually far worse than that.
In the process involved we are obliged to give up so much of our personal information in order that we may access these tools, that effectively we end up paying our lords and masters for the right to enter the aforementioned data on their behalf.
As users of Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter and Facebook we are nothing but foolish data-inputters who actually court our virtual bosses for the honour of broadening their portfolio of assets.
Web 2.0 isn’t 21st century socialism at all. Web 2.0, as we have allowed it to grow, is 19th century sweat-shop capitalism of the very worst sort. And what’s so very fascinating about its dynamics is that we’re prepared to cede to its attractions so cheaply.
Quite an achievement, this apparently voluntary enslavement of the working-classes – how to beat Marx and all his assumptions, in fact, in one easy step.
A certain kind of infirmity – even, perhaps, an encroaching technological addiction of the proletariat – which is fashionably and ingeniously destroying our ability to put boundaries on its reach.
Don’t you just love ‘em?
How we’d do anything for our friends. Even work for absolutely nothing for the grandest web-based corporations – which then, on the back of our toil, receive billions of dollars of hardly earned cash.
Now there’s an unfashionable explanation for our current levels of unemployment: a massively clever transfer of socially networked riches from the most humble in our nation states to the most powerful on our globalised planet – and all via the labour of the former at the hands of the latter and their freemium strategies.
Could be a PhD in there somewhere, you know.
Definitely a PhD’s worth of ideas.
Alternatively, a truism only we at the coalface are still unaware of.